Close the Training Department

I get a lot of unsolicited e-mail asking me to review a new product or service, a small portion that actually gets my attention. A recent e-mail said how much the writer liked my post on inverting the pyramid, and by the way, their product enabled this —

“Now, what if you could incorporate social media practices like blogging and chat and incorporate social media feeds and video directly into the training courses? wouldn’t it be even more effective then? What if the people building the course could freely collaborate and share ideas within the course building tool and even share reusable course elements?”

I think that social media can be powerful tools for collaboration, working and learning, but they are rather useless inside a training box. Sticking blogs, RSS, chats and widgets into your training delivery system has little to do with my advice to the training department or my suggestion to learning professionals to wake up and smell the coffee.

I am advocating the closure of the training department per se. We need to get out of the training delivery mindset but that is where most vendors are stuck. Jay Cross sums up our approach at TogetherLearn:

“Next week, we will close the training department. We are shifting our focus from training to performance. Legal or the line departments can handle compliance. Any remaining training staff will become mentors, coaches, and facilitators who work on improving core business processes, strengthening relationships with customers, and cutting costs.”

That’s right, compliance can be covered by legal. Now look at what remains. Talk to the people at the coal face and find out what they really need. Few will say training. The days of developing & delivering are almost over. Connecting & Communicating should be the focus of learning and performance professionals in a networked environment.

20 Responses to “Close the Training Department”

  1. Janet

    Maybe we’re not talking about the same box? Communication between the trainer and the learner is key to effective communication. Incorporating that into the course itself chops down the walls of the box and let everybody actually communicate.
    I agree the days of “push” training should be over. Time to engage and train and listen, listen, listen!

  2. Jon Husband

    Unfortunately, at this point in time in most work environments (structured as they are) a course is the form that makes learning (“officially-sanctioned” learning, if you will) accessible to a worker.

    Yes, yes, I know hat bright curious bushy-tailed workers will always be learning, and that’s a key point for bringing social computing into play more and more, IMO. It makes that “learning” available and accessible in an easier-to-get-into and ongoing way.

  3. Ken Allan

    Kia ora Harold!

    I think I catch your steam. Communication and collaboration. Okay, okay. I agree on principle. It’s the praxis of all this that bothers me.

    You and I know that good communication and fine collaboration are what help make CoPs work. It’s the getting the community to that point that’s the issue with me.

    Does everyone have to “wake up and smell the coffee”? If so, how do we get that to happen ubiquitously and simultaneously in an organisation?

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  4. Harold Jarche

    I don’t think that we get this to happen ubiquitously and simultaneously, because the organisation is the problem. The changes to the training department require structural changes as well. I have no doubt that many organisations will not be able to implement these kinds of changes. That doesn’t mean that they’re not necessary. Getting there is going to be our great challenge.

    Then again, I could be wrong and the hierarchical business structure may prevail. I’m just not betting on it.

  5. Ken Allan

    Kia ora Harold

    I’m with you on this but I guess that the Emperor’s New Clothes are just as likely to be useful this century as last. You seem awfully like The Guru with this new way that has to happen. I’m interested to learn how performance is going to improve.

    If the organisation is the problem, how is this to be fixed? Connecting and communicating seems fine to me – I’m all for innovation. Do we have some new beverage with a popularity that spreads like a contageous disease or what? Let’s dole it out. I hope there’s enough cups.

    Where’s the new coffee machine?

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  6. Harold Jarche

    Starting with a new coffee machine would be high on my priority list, Ken 😉

    My experience is that unless there is structural change there won’t be real change in how we work. As Churchill said, “First we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. In order to deal with complexity, our work structures need to be based on a more flexible model – not as rigid as a command & control hierarchy. Compare Al-Qaeda with NATO. As the UK police said,”Al Qaeda is not an organization. Al Qaeda is a way of working …”

    I’m not a guru, but I think that answers lie in – Complexity Theory; Democracy; Biology; Networks; Wirearchy; etc. I’m really interested in the practicalities of creating new work structures that are more effective and I see parts of this in my own work with various nodes & networks around the world.

  7. Dennis Coxe

    Harold, from a workplace perspective you probably are correct, from a theoretical perspective, in stating that the course-driven learning arrangement needs to come to an end. Social media cannot be pigeon-holed into a formal learning environment.

    What will hold it back is the two-headed snake of legal concerns and past precedent. By legal concerns businesses rightly or wrongly have to worry extensively about the message communicated to employees regarding the business and its processes. At the very least they will require a base line on which all informal learning will spring from. It’s the “corporate line.”

    This leads to the snake’s second head, how is that corporate line delivered. Compliance, legal, and upper management are not going to be content to just put a memo, or, if they are early adapters, an audio/video message from the CEO, and let the worker bees to view it or not. That’s where the infamous LMS comes into play. They will want to track who has seen/heard the message and they want a test to ensure the message sunk in (at least temporarily). We are creatures of habit and, as a result of the industrial age, we have come to the conclusion that formal training is the only way to deliver that message.

    Sorry, but I don’t think the classroom/elearning model is going away any time soon. To turn that model over to lawyers or compliance people is asking to turn out even worse material. Believe me, I know. I work for an training and development firm that let its IT department develop computer compliance training using “rapid development” tools. It was the most painful instruction I ever received. Pages of PowerPoint slides converted to a captivate file. Lots of jargon and legalize that meant nothing to me. As an instructional designer could I have done better? I would like to believe so. If I can at least weed the garden of the unnecessary materials and keep what the end user needs to know then I think I have done a service.

  8. Ken Allan

    Kia ora Harold!

    Complexity theory, huh? Now you’re talking.

    Adaptive/emergent – okay okay. So we have to get rid of the clockwork insides first, for as long as they are rusting there there’s no way we’re gonna change. Besides, coffee just rusts them all the more.

    Hmmm. So we have to get rid of the structure and replace it with what? And who legislates (approves) that this change takes place? I fear!

    I fear, you are discussing all this with the wrong person for change to take place where I work. I’ve yet to smell any aorma of coffee, but I’m awake, and not with the coffee.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  9. Harold Jarche

    When the change in our workplace structures happens it will come quickly, as the need has been building over the past few decades. Management experts like Gary Hamel and Thomas Malone point to new work models, which companies like Semco and WL Gore have already embraced and Cisco is seriously implementing. Work by Dave Pollard and Jon Husband is looking at ways to operationalize a new work structure through natural enterprises or wirearchy. The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed.

  10. Joe

    My last days in the corporate world (a large US data provider) were full of course building nonsense. No one wanted to attend the course (do you want to attend a course?) in person or electronically. The only way to get people to do it was to put that word “mandatory” in front of it. Or have the legal department issue threats. Oh, what a great learning environment! I worked (covertly) to help small groups build wikis and it worked. Then I was threatened with termination for working on non-departmental projects. I left a month later and took a job at a cool independent school.

    Lots of corporate traditions will be ending, and the training department is one of them. It’s simply not a good use of resources. To be sure, lots of companies will continue to have a training department – but you have to wonder how long those companies will be around. I used to worry when the layoffs were happening cause we all know training is one of the first places to be cut. But then I realized it made sense….

  11. Manuel

    I think this one of your Best posts. Maybe it is time to repost it after so many years. I have forwarded it to so many people…

  12. Terry Yelmene

    The – “instructional” mental model – that pervades – that perceives there must be a teacher who ‘knows’ some “knowledge,” who then disseminates it downwards to a student who is to “receive” that knowledge – is too strong to be challenged for many. The problem is that mental model is so wrong in so many ways, not the least of which is the fundamental misunderstanding of knowledge. Systemically, and more accurately, there is no such thing as knowledge transfer. Rather, there is only learning – when a “learner,'” exposed to new information, constructs new “meaning constructs” for/within themselves. In truth, a teacher can only expose “information” in ways that might trigger a possible learner’s previous meaning constructs to be challenged/augmented and subsequently modified if the newly exposed information can challenge the learner’s previously held constructs. (a process that happens dozens, if not hundreds of times/day). The truth is we are all constantly learning. The fallacy is the “instructional” notion of teaching.


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